The Spectator. Diary. Issue 2nd July 2005 By Max Hastings At the weekend, one of my favourite soldiers remarked sombrely that the armed forces have been sandpapered into so small a critical mass that little needs to go wrong for things to unravel disastrously. Amazingly few people notice, however. When army manpower cuts were announced, the story received brief coverage even in supposedly serious papers, and principally in the context of sentiment about cap badges. The services now lack a political or media constituency, such as once raised hell when governments maltreated them. The new indifference suits ministers. General Sir Mike Jackson is the only chief of staff who is known to the public and reaches out to the media. His colleagues are more reticent. The last defence secretary, Geoff Hoon, decreed that senior officers should have no contact with journalists save under political supervision, and replaced uniformed service public relations officers with creatures of his own. Excepting Jackson, the chiefs emerge from their boxes only on terms that Peter Inge or Charles Guthrie would have rejected with contempt. The current Chief of Defence Staff, General Sir Michael Walker, has chosen to survive his tenure by making himself invisible. I am told that one day when Walkerâs appointed successor, Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup, lunched privately with the defence correspondents group, they were startled to see him arrive with a minder who placed a tape recorder on the table. I once invited Stirrup to lunch. He responded that he would be happy to accept, but our meeting must be on the record, with a civil servant present. I wrote back declining these terms, and suggested that it was humiliating for an officer of Stirrupâs seniority to allow himself to be exercised on a choke lead by ministers. To mix metaphors, if the chiefs accept purdah, they cannot be surprised that they lack clout. When service morale is low and recruitment languishing, they need to be out there articulating a vision for defence which a new generation can understand. We should hope for better things under the new Secretary of State, John Reid. (My emphasis, Rajaz). Now, I did suggest you strap yourself in. Get the nurse to give you a sedative. Have a drink. Calm down. Comments?